Improbable is the best way to describe the performance of goalkeeper Phil Graham and the El Camino Real High boys’ soccer team Wednesday.
The Conquistadores, seeded 17th in the 32-team City Section playoffs, upset top-seeded Reseda, 1-0, in a second-round match, backed by Graham’s exceptional play. They will play at Hollywood in a quarterfinal match Friday.
El Camino Real (18-3-6) finished second in the Northwest Valley Conference, and Graham has played less than three months of high school soccer.
But the Conquistadores were up to the challenge, getting a goal by Sean Miller seven minutes after halftime and hanging on.
Graham, 6 feet 2 and 200 pounds, made seven saves, several of them spectacular. Graham’s best stop came in the 51st minute, when, out of position near the left post, he lunged across the goal mouth and used his left foot to deflect a point-blank shot by Rocky Monzon.
Although Reseda only held an 11-9 shot advantage, much of the match took place within 40 yards of the El Camino Real goal. The final 25 minutes were played at a frantic pace, as the Regents (14-2) attacked in desperate waves.
Graham said he was worried during the second half.
“I thought for sure they were going to score,” said Graham, a senior who played basketball the past three years. “It was crazy. The shots kept flying in.”
But as quick as the shots came, the Conquistadore defense, led by sweeper Mike Montgomery, either blocked them or swept the rebounds away.
The goal came on a free kick from outside the Reseda penalty area. Gonzalo Rico sent a kick across the goal mouth, where Miller leaped above a crowd to head the ball in from 10 yards.
“I told the guys that whoever scored first would win,” El Camino Real Coach David Hussey said. “We played an excellent game but we got lucky, too.”
Reseda midfielder Marvin Quijano agreed with the last part of Hussey’s statement.
“The best team doesn’t win every time,” Quijano said. “It’s all about luck in the playoffs.”